A Sunday in the Woods With Joe

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” – Winston Churchill

I am happy to say that I have survived an entire week out in the blogosphere.  Writing is something I enjoy doing, thank goodness, because it is a real effort to write something every day that someone else would want to read.   I have a new found respect for all of the other bloggers out there who took on this task long before I did.

Today, I am giving myself a little reward and a little break.  I am going to Hitchcock Woods, with some friends, and ride horses along the beautiful trails.  To say the least, Aiken is a horse friendly place.  There is  an equine walk signal for riders who need to cross Whiskey Road.  Our street signs have a silhouette of a horse’s head on them.  Every type of equine activity is only a short distance away, from rodeos to polo matches.

A ride through Hitchcock Woods makes for a magical day for anyone who rides.  The Woods boasts the title of the largest privately owned urban forest with over 2,100 acres, and is maintained solely by contributions to the Hitchcock Woods Foundation.  It is open to the public, free of charge, 365 days a year.  It also contains over 70 miles of riding trails.  Horses rule here, as joggers, hikers and dog walkers must grant the right of way to riders and their mounts.  It is truly an equestrian mecca.

For me, the experience of sharing a life with and riding horses has allowed me to learn lessons I might never have learned.  They are wild animals in domestic care.  Horses are prey and are always afraid that danger lurks around every tree.  It takes a long time for them to come to trust their human herd member enough to go places and do things simply because you ask them to.

The biggest lesson I have learned from my years with these noble, graceful and beautiful creatures is patience, something my husband will quickly tell you was never one of my strong points.  I have come to understand that a horse will learn to do things on its own terms and its own schedule.  Years ago, a very knowledgeable horse person told me that if you approach a horse with an attitude, they will respond in kind.  So, I now know to never go out to the pasture with anything other than a calm demeanor.  Trust me, they will smell and sense anything else a mile away.  They will walk away and ignore you, waiting for you to get over it.

I also have found that there are great therapists.  Going out to brush their manes and tails, or just scratch them in their “sweet spot” can make anything else you had on your mind just melt away.  When you have been accepted into the herd, you know it.  They will attempt to groom you in return, which is no small compliment.  It is an act of genuine affection, respect and bonding.  The touch from a horse’s lips on your cheek or in your hair is like no other feeling in the world.

When I ride in The Woods, or anywhere else for that matter,  I am truly transported.  Again, the world is left behind for a brief while.  All that matters, for those few hours,  is the feel of your horse, the sound of his hooves,  sunlight though tree branches and a sense of calm.  It is at these times, whether you are coaxing your horse into a full gallop or simply letting him stop to sip at a stream,  that you know what a real sense of peace feels like.

My favorite of our three horses, but please don’t tell the other two, is Big Joe.  He was appropriately named before I adopted him.  He is an Irish Draught, Thoroughbred cross and was once a hunter/jumper who ran with the hounds in fox hunts.   He is a gentle giant, coming in at over 1,600 pounds, and he is my friend.   He is the first one at the fence to greet me, even if it means that his meal will wait a bit.  He loves to play in the sprinklers, and knows how to unlock his stall for late night escapes.   If I call to him at night, he will respond with a nicker.  When he and I head off to wander the trails, he carries me as if I am  precious cargo.  He is easy to ride and requires very little direction. From the relaxed movement of his body to the look in his eyes, I know that he enjoys our outings as much as I do.

So, I’m using Sunday to recharge my batteries and spend some time among friends – both four legged and two legged.  It clears my head and  improves my outlook for another week.  I might actually be ready to watch Bravo’s invasion of South Africa.  I hope you don’t mind that I took you riding today.   If you are ever in my neck of the woods, stop by.  Three horses – no waiting.


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18 Responses to A Sunday in the Woods With Joe

  1. Viewer 5 says:

    Oh, Empress… what a gorgeous post. I really felt transported. Starting with the Churchill quote (I have been on a Mitford/Churchill biography run the past year) and ending with the invitation. I adore animals of all sizes, but it’s been a regret of mine for some time that I never learned to ride. As someone unfamiliar with horses, they seem like enormous cats to me, temperamentally. Yes, you can make fun of me for that!

    I really like the way you write. Hope your day is beautiful.

  2. Deco says:

    Thank you, Empress..
    I don’t know why, exactly, but I have tears in my eyes. What a gentle and peaceful story. It is exactly what I needed today.Thank you.

    Shout out to V5 !!

  3. Thank you Empress. I feel like I am going riding with you.

  4. klmh says:

    I love your blog today. We too had horses for many years and I our stallion passed away two years ago. Im still tempted to buy another, but retirement is in our near future and our residence will change.
    When we were in Ireland a little over a year ago, I was able to ride an Irish Draught, but I don’t think he was a mix. He was huge compared to our Morgans, but you feel their gentleness underneath you. We went riding thru the streets of one of the Irish towns and ended up running them down the sandy coastline before returning to the barn. So much fun.
    The second was a ride around one of the castles many hundreds of manicured acres and I was on a Connemara, so I was able to get the best of Ireland in one trip.
    Thanks again for sharing …

  5. Thank you for today’s post Empress, it was kind, gentle & heartwarming. People who love horses are a special breed. My cousins had horses on their farm and once in awhile they would include me in a ride. They weren’t long rides, but there was a park across the highway from their farm that was a very nice place to go. For many years both of them have kept horses. One has Arabians & loves to show and breed them. The other has several horses that she’s had for years, they are her very good friends. Horseback riding on the beach with the ocean waves swirling over the horse’s hooves or riding along a trail in a sunlight dappled forest are the things dreams are made of…

  6. PussyGalore says:

    I’d say you’ve had a stellar first week as a blogger. Congratulations, Empress and thank you for sharing your unique perspective with us.

    I must say I’m a wee bit envious of your beautiful life but I also must say that you deserve your beautiful life.

    When I was twelve my best friend and I worked at a place called The Pony Corral, a drive-in restaurant with a paddock-like circular track adjacent to the parking lot. Our job was to lead the ponies around the circular paddock while children sat atop them and it was a great little fun summer job, although at 25 cents an hour not too lucrative. But after our long day of trudging around the paddock in the hot sun for a nominal fee we were allowed to ride the ponies and that made it all worthwhile.

    I’d done a bit of trail riding but had an experience that kind of scared me after which I avoided horses. But in my early days of sobriety in the late 80s I spent the better part of the first two years with the Esalen Indians in Carmel Valley where we did sweat lodges and sat at the feet of Medicine people who came from all over the country to share their rituals and traditions with us. This Esalen family also did horseback wilderness trips up in mountains and at another location down at the beach on the way to Big Sur. One night my friend and I were asleep in the teepee and suddenly all hell broke loose as the horses had apparently gotten out of their corral and were madly galloping around the teepee making an incredible amount of noise. We were petrified thinking that we’d be stomped to death but not once did any of them come in contact with the teepee. Somehow that experience empowered me and when they invited us along on a trail ride the next day we were only too happy to tag along. A couple of years later another friend and I rode horses in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona and that was such a treat. They are magnificent beings and they inspire in me a sense of awe whenever I see one.

    Just curious Empress to know if you know of Edward Muybridge, the photographer who first captured moving pictures of galloping horses?

  7. Adgirl says:

    I just love this blog!! I am very pleased to see so many people starting their own blogs so they can share their personal stories and POV about tv and real life.

    klmh I had a Morgan too. What a great animal. My friend took me trail riding often. She had several horses, one of which was a Morgan named Teak. My friend always rode her arab or thoroughbred horse. Teak was for me to ride. Eventually she “gave” him to me. I care for him for many years. When I didn’t have time to keep him in condition I returned him. He must have been around 18 yrs old then. Teak was obviously well trained and quite docile. He never allowed my inexperienced unbalanced ass to hit the ground. When we were trail riding he would *point* at offshooting trails in an effort to ask for directions from me. He adored bath time and I would shampoo and creme rinse his coarse mane before manging them into a braid. He especially loved warm oats & molasses as a treat. When he was happy he would raise his front foot and wave it around. He also liked the barn kitties who rubbed Teak’s big feet.

    These days my friend breeds Icelandic horses in Minnesota. She just loves teaching people about horses. She also has day camps for children and disabled people. She believes horses bring out the best in us. I would agree.

    Empress thanks for the nice reminder of days gone by. Horses are a happy influence on us.

    • Adgirl,
      I love your story about Teak. I mentioned Joe’s love of playing in the sprinkler. In the oppressive Carolina Summer heat, he will pick up a hose, carry it to the fence line and stare at the back door – a message to me to get my butt out there and soak him down. He has also broken more than one spigot in an effort to turn the water on by himself. Nothing says “good morning” like a flooded paddock!

    • klmh says:

      I loved that story. They are such people horses.

  8. Adgirl says:

    This has nothing to do with horses (depending on your point of view). This just cracked me up.

    Reportedly, Francios Mitterand the former President of France said of Margaret Thatcher “She has the eyes of Caligua and the lips of Marilyn Monroe.”.
    Say what? That is the best mash up I have ever heard. LOL.

  9. For those of you who shared your experiences with horses and for those of you who, I hope, now found a way to vicariously experience them, thank you for reading and commenting.
    About 10 years ago, I received a copy of a book called “Of Women and Horses” which is a collection of essays by horsewomen, combined with beautiful photographs. It was compiled by a “horse whisperer” and Cherokee Indian by the name of GaWaNi Pony Boy.
    There is a quote in the book that says “A little girl’s dream of a pony is a grown woman’s gift of a horse.” That may help explain the name of our farm.

  10. Designdiva says:

    Empress…Thank you for a GREAT Sunday blog…Now I miss the horses and living in the country even more……
    Time to get the pictures out to do the walk down memory lane….
    Thanks so much for “sharing “…
    Hugs and Peace

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